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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Couture
Does your dog really need that coat?

Dog clothing ranges from frilly dresses to warm fleece coats. The popularity of canine couture has even given way to the annual Pet Fashion Week. But, given that most dogs have fur, are these outfits really necessary?

According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver of the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs don’t get sick when the mercury drops since there is no cold virus that affects them. She says that unless your pup is tiny with short hair, dogs are rarely bothered by freezing temperatures. But Beaver stresses that clothing can be potentially dangerous. 

Some dogs, like many northern breeds, regulate their body temperature with an insulating layer of fur that lifts off their bodies in warm weather and pulls in close to trap heat in cold weather. Putting clothes on these dogs can lead to heat stroke.

Clothes can also restrict movement, hurting joins and muscles, or get caught in long hair, causing discomfort. 

My pups only have two items of clothing, a cool coat for warm weather and a rain coat, though I can’t say that I haven’t been tempted by cute canine outfits. Fortunately for my dogs, most clothes look funny on hairy Shelties.

Certainly most dogs don’t really need any clothes, but I do agree that there are some dogs that may need some extra warmth in the winter. 

What do you think about canine clothing?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When a Beloved Dog Dies
How do others help you handle the grief?

My dear friend Trisha McConnell recently lost her 16-year old dog Lassie. She has written extensively about all her dogs, including Lassie, in books, magazines and on her blog, and many people who have never even met Lassie felt the loss and grieved along with Trisha. In fact, following her blog entry about Lassie’s passing, there are over 300 comments of love and support.

  This tells me that as a community of dog lovers, we are sticking together and helping each other with the toughest task many of us face—saying good-bye. When we need one another, our community steps up, and that is something to feel good about. It’s so important when you lose a dog to be around people who understand how big the loss is and to hear from friends and family (or even strangers) that they share our pain.   That sort of support is priceless because, regrettably, there are people out there who just don’t get how hard it is to lose a dog, or don’t seem to realize that dogs are part of our family. (Sometimes people say things like, “Well she was getting old, you must have been expecting it.” Or, “It will be nice to get a puppy and have a young dog again.”   Or worse, “Well, it was only a dog after all.” These sorts of comments may be well meaning, but are never helpful.)   Whenever I learn that someone I know has lost a dog, I send a card with a note about my favorite recollection of that dog, what that dog meant to me, or what I will always remember about her (or him.) I always hope that an expression of love and caring will be welcome, even though nothing can take away the pain. I’d like to hear from you. What did people do that helped you heal from the loss of a dog, or at least made you feel loved and supported? (And if you’d like to share any comments that would have been better left unsaid, feel free to do that, too.)

 

News: Guest Posts
Cats v. Dogs
The not-so-great debate continues

More fodder—for both sides—in the cat versus dog debate: 1. Dog owners are more extroverted and less neurotic than cat owners and 2. Cat owners are better educated than dog owners (at least in the U.K.)!

   

 

News: Guest Posts
Canine Bling Alert
Diamonds are a dog's best friend?

Friends of mine who don’t have dogs are always teasing me about the latest outrageous indulgence we “dog people” are up to—things like canine massages and dog-centered camps. And I patiently explain that while these may not be strictly essential to a happy, healthy life—they are probably welcome additions.

  Then, along comes a $52,000 diamond dog collar. Like something Leona Helmsley would have had in every color of the rainbow, the diamond dog collar strikes me as well, excessive. (OK, I admit I like the fact a portion of the sale is donated to the North Shore Animal Shelter. If it’s like, say, $30,000, I could seriously get behind this thing.) But I’m heading out for a weekend with dog-skeptics and I just know this is going to come up—and honestly, there’s nothing I can say, except it’s not about whether you love your dog or not. It's just that even in a recession some people just really want to burn through their cash.   What do you think is too much when it comes to your pets?

 

News: Guest Posts
Dogs v. Humans
New York magazine looks at our complex relationship with dog

On the plane home from Burbank, Calif., on Sunday night, I read New York magazine’s cover story about dogs. (By the way, I’m always impressed by Los Angeles' serious dog scene. Even though we were traveling sans canines, we walked the very hilly loop at Runyon Canyon Dog Park. Great views of the city, locals and dogs (lots of matched pairs). If you really want to experience L.A., this has to be on the list. Anyway, as they say, I digress.)

 

I grabbed New York in the newsstand because of the provocative cover featuring a tentative looking Boston Terrier with the cover line, “A Dog Is Not A Human Being, Right?” I’m always interested when the non-dog press decides to tackle a comprehensive Dog Story—and this looked like a meaty bone for the ride home. It was, in fact, a well-written survey of our complicated modern relationships with dogs—the sort of sophisticated reporting you expect from New York—covering—albeit too quickly—the high and low points of our attitudes about everything from diet and training techniques to breeding and rescue. I appreciated that dog-owning author John Homans dipped his toe in the shark-infested waters of dog politics—after all, as we see demonstrated on this here blog, we certainly don’t all agree on what constitutes a dog’s basic rights—and that conversation can get a little heated.

 

While the story is too short and too ambitious to dig very deep into anyone area, it’s a decent primer about the state of things and raises interesting questions—like are we allowing dogs to take the place of people in our lives? What does it say about us that dogs treated are often treated better than people? Where is the dog headed as we continue down the road of “anthropomorphic selection”?

News: Guest Posts
First Dog Blog
The President’s Portie is no bipartisan!

Last week in my Rally class, a student joked that her dog couldn't make left turns because he was a Republican. Of course, we all cracked up; dogs don't follow a political party. Or do they? Check out First Dog Bo Obama's blog and you might be surprised. He speaks his partisan mind on everything from Haiti's dog victims, to Scott Brown's unexpected Senate win, to race in politics. Bo is also considering a run for the "big enchilada of the South Lawn animal kingdom." I hear there's already a squirrel smear campaign ... .

News: Guest Posts
AKC’s Change of Heart
An early valentine for mixed breeds

As I wrote in an earlier post, the American Kennel Club will allow mixed breed dogs to participate in events such as agility, obedience and Rally starting April 1, 2010. (Hope the April’s Fool date is not a joke!) The organization--whose new core values embraces all dogs--just announced that mixed breed dogs will no longer compete in a separate class or earn separate titles from purebred dogs. Instead, mutts will now go paw to paw with the pedigrees.

I’m thrilled that my young mixed breed dog can compete at the same shows as my rescue Dalmatians, earn the same titles and be included with the rest of the pedigreed pack. There are a lot of AKC trials in my area, which make them convenient. That said, I will continue to support agility venues like USDAA and NADAC and Rally venues like APDT and C-WAGS because they embraced mixed breeds from day one. We'll also continue to show in disc dog events through UFO and Skyhoundz--the only competitions I’ve experienced where mixed breeds and rescues outnumber the pedigreed purebreds. Participants are always friendly and supportive; it is my hope that long-time AKC competitors will foster that same community spirit.

Can mixed breed dog owners and purebred dog owners literally come together and respect each other’s choice of dog? Please share your thoughts.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Fashions
What are you wearing?

Who among us doesn’t have a wardrobe full of pieces that proclaim our love for dogs? I still cherish the Dog’s Best Friend T-shirts I wore as my uniform when teaching training classes at that business before my husband’s new job prompted us to move. In the photo on back covers of the books we wrote together, both Patricia McConnell and I are sporting matching denim shirts embroidered with dogs. Très chic.

Many dog clothes are sold as fundraisers, including one particularly stylish T-shirt that says “Rescue Me” and raises funds to help place rescue dogs in homes. Online, in stores and at professional events, canine couture is all the rage.   At one dog training conference, I went out to lunch with a group of six people, and we laughed to discover that I was the only one NOT wearing dog-themed socks. (Apparently I am either a complete fashion idiot, or I just didn’t get the memo—hard to say.)   At most conferences, there are many items for sale, and at dog events, lots of them are clothing and accessories for people. From the “Bigger is Better” T-shirts with images of Great Danes to the Chihuahua earrings so common in the Southwest, there are so many ways to “wear your heart” on your sleeve or elsewhere.   What do you wear that tells the world you love dogs?
News: Guest Posts
Dogs in India
Strays, rajas and spouses?

I had coffee today with a dog-loving friend of mine named Kathy, who spends three to four months each year in India. We were talking about dogs, of course, and she was describing what she sees over there. It’s pretty much what I expected. Lots of stray mutts, small, Shepherd-Lab looking pups, scavenging in the garbage. There are pet dogs—mostly belonging to people with money and almost always purebred. She says there are a surprising number of American Eskimo Dogs—pure white with thick double-coats that seem ill suited to the climate. I’m thinking their very inappropriateness makes them a status symbol. A friend of hers in Rajasthan has a pair of pugs with staff. Domestic help is inexpensive in India, and these pugs have a young man whose sole employment is their care and feeding.

But that’s nothing. Kathy had heard of a man who married a stray dog. I don’t know how that failed to surface on my radar. As soon as I got home, I googled (because honestly, isn’t that pretty much what we do about nearly every question these days): “Indian man marries dog.” Sure enough: In a Hindu ceremony, P. Selvakumar married a dog to ward off some bad karma he banked as a result of killing two dogs 15 years earlier. And he’s not the only one. From what I can tell, it’s not an icky, carnal thing but more a commitment to take care of the dog, Selvi, for the rest of her days. We’d call it adoption, although it’s a lot more festive looking. I know it seems weird but Selvi’s a lovely bride (watch, below) and who can argue with the desire to atone for a cruel act with kindness?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Training Your Foot Warmer
Sitting in an odd place takes practice for dogs

Previously, I wrote about using a visiting Pomeranian as a foot warmer, and I mentioned that I had to teach him to sit on top of my feet. The first time I lured him over and gave him the cue to sit, he looked a little confused and was not as quick to respond as usual. He started to lower his back end hesitantly, unlike the usually sharp way he sits on cue. I praised his initial lowering to let him know that even in this unusual context, he was doing the right thing by sitting on top of a part of my body. I then gave him a treat, though his training is usually well beyond the point of requiring a treat to reinforce the right behavior in response to a simple cue like “Sit.” For many repetitions over several days, I asked him to sit when to do so meant that he would be on top of my feet. After this work on my part and his, I could get easily get him to perform the behavior I desired—sitting on my cold feet and making them cozy warm. He seemed comfortable with the cue in this context and willingly sat when asked.

Dogs don’t tend to generalize well. If you think your dog knows how to sit on cue, you may be right, but if you think he knows how to sit in all contexts to that cue, there’s a good chance you are mistaken unless you have specifically trained him to respond in a variety of contexts. To many dogs, the cue “Sit” means to do what they were taught in training class—to sit in front of you while you stand there.

Many dogs know how to sit when asked in their own living room, at training class, or when on a leash in the backyard and the person who gives the cue is standing up. Change any part of that context, and your dog may not respond. So, if you ask your dog to sit when you are lying down in bed, when you are not facing your dog, when there are visitors at the door, or a cat is visible out the window, he may not do what you ask. The fact that he does not respond is more likely to mean that he hasn’t been trained to respond to your cue in that context than that he is disobedient or being stubborn. Dogs need to be trained to respond to cues in different contexts if we expect them to do what we ask. I think this is one of the big secrets known by experienced dog trainers, but not by people who are novices in the field: Teaching the dog what the cue means is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to respond to the cue no matter what is going on and no matter where you are. This is especially true of difficult behaviors such as heel and come compared with a simple behavior such as sitting.

I had never trained a dog specifically to sit on my feet before so it was a bit of a learning exercise for both of us. (I have had dogs sit on my feet when I was just asking for a normal sit, but who hasn’t had that happen?) However, we had the advantage of my knowing that it might pose a challenge for Tyson so I knew to take it slow with him, helping him out by reinforcing his efforts and not expecting too much too soon.

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